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  • Sharron Batsch

Hosting a Successful Conference: an Exhibitor's Point of View

We have been an exhibitor or sponsor/exhibitor at several conferences. It takes thoughtful planning to host a conference that is successful for everyone involved. We would like to comment on the role of exhibitors and how you can ensure your conference will be well attended by exhibitors and sponsors alike.

Exhibitors view a conference as a business opportunity. They balance the cost of attending the conference with the benefit of meeting new clients. The cost of travel, shipping, time away from the office, staffing, materials, and exhibitor registration needs to be offset by the benefits and opportunities the conference provides.

Meeting with new or existing clients away from the hectic pace of an office is a benefit to exhibitors. Delegates on the other hand, also benefit from this time to acquaint themselves with what’s new in the marketplace.

Exhibitors give added value to a conference. They are a rich source of information and ideas. They can update delegates on new services and products in an inclusive environment. Exhibitors bring an important influx of cash to pay conference costs and reduce delegate fees. They are an integral part of conference activity.

The role of the conference committee is to ensure that everyone benefits. We begin our comments on location. Location Location Location! Where a conference is held is an important consideration. Issues like accessibility, services, space and cost are important factors. From an exhibitor’s perspective, access to the target audience is key. When the location is too far afield, the cost of travel, transporting exhibitor booths and materials, and additional transportation requirements all become factors when deciding to attend.

The conference committee needs to assess who they want attending; only local exhibitors, only deep pocket exhibitors, or a wider array of potential exhibitors that will be of greater benefit to their delegates.

The position of the exhibitor hall, and the routing of delegates as they move throughout the day to encourage traffic is important to exhibitors. Time for delegates to attend the exhibit hall is often relegated to coffee breaks and lunch. However, when coffee breaks include a trip to the bathroom and chatting with a new colleague or listening to the lunch speaker before rushing off to the first-afternoon session, exhibitors will begin to wonder if their presence is valued or whether they were invited as the proverbial cash cow?

Some conferences offer a social evening in the exhibitor hall. No one is rushed, everyone has a bit more time and is encouraged to meet and greet. A social event the day before the conference goes into full swing, usually means that local participants will not attend and those coming from afar will just be checking in. This is not viewed as a generous offering that benefits exhibitors but rather a short shrift to attempt to be doing the right thing.

As an exhibitor, we have a few suggestions. First, you want your conference to provide such value that exhibitors and sponsors are signing up a year in advance. You can do this very easily if you follow a few steps:

1. Provide time in the schedule for delegates to visit with exhibitors during the day. Coffee breaks and lunch hours are of limited value. Bathroom breaks, chatting with other delegates, listening to a speaker, catching phone messages, grabbing a coffee or eating lunch offers no time for exhibit.

2. Don’t fill the delegate schedule so full that they are ready to drop. Again, everyone needs a bit of their own time and many exhibitors are a wealth of knowledge and ideas.

3. Host a special event with the exhibitors in the exhibitor hall. The more the merrier is very true.

4. Add the visit to the exhibitor hall on the conference evaluation form. It provides delegates with a different perspective and helps them understand that exhibitors are important too. After all, exhibitors want time to introduce their products and services in a professional manner. Keep in mind, your delegates most likely are selling something to their potential client base as well!

5. Ensure that there is proximity to where delegates spend their day and where exhibits are housed.

6. If you have promised a delegate list, make it a full list and make sure it is correct. A pleasant invitation can go out to delegates prior to the event from those exhibitors wishing to send one. Responses like "Take me off your list." or "How did you get my email address?" show that delegates were not made aware of the importance of exhibitors.

7. Most exhibitors will stay with their booth over the lunch hour. Put out some buns and cold cuts. You would never sit down to eat in your home or office and leave others to stand and watch …would you? Hospitality to all concerned is beneficial, particularly considering the cost and time some exhibitors have contributed.

8. Take time to thank each exhibitor/sponsor for attending. A face-to-face thank you from the committee is a demonstration of professionalism and good manners.

Where did we get all these outrageous ideas? Well, we have chaired conferences and tradeshow events and we have been exhibitors and sponsors. Our comments are a result of our experiences as a conference participant.

The key to running any event is simple. If I was in the shoes of the delegate, exhibitor, or sponsor would I feel this was a successful use of my time, my resources and my money?

It's not just what you get that makes a great event, it's what you give that makes it exceptional!

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